Feature

On the Saint John scene: Brent Mason

The 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards may be a ways off (Nov 15-18), but festivities have already begun in this year’s host city, Saint John, New Brunswick.

We think this is perfect time for us to kick off our coverage of this fantastic city and the talent it holds.

There’s no better place to start than with the “godfather of the Saint John music scene”: musician, Folk Music Canada director, and CFMA Saint John committee member Brent Mason.

How long have you been making music on the scene in Saint John?

I moved back to NB in 1992, after spending time after university traveling throughout the continent and living on the West Coast. Moved to Saint John, started an fresh squeezed orange juice stand in the City market, on open mic night at O’Leary’s and put out my first record, Head for the High Ground. It’s been 20 years now!

How many albums does that represent?

I just released my 8th record.

How many nights have you hosted at O’Leary’s? What are some highlights?

We celebrated the 1000th Wednesday night Open Mic at Oleary’s last summer — surreal! Aside from it having been a great place to try out new material, and a place for people in town to come and play, we’ve had some interesting cameos: lots of Maritime talent — Matt Andersen, Matt Mays, The Trews, the Trailer Park Boys and even George Jones’ band!

Tell us a bit about hosting an episode of CBC’s Land & Sea dedicated to the Saint John River, and how that opportunity came along.

One of my albums is Riversongs, an homage to the magnificent Saint John River. I put it out in 2000 and got a lot of local/regional attention with it — an ECMA nomination and CBC play.

Subsequent to developing a bit of a relationship with CBC TV after they purchased the pilot of Grave Concerns and commissioned a couple of other episodes, I suggested a Land and Sea feature on the river, using the music and stories from Riversongs as the theme. They bit!

How did you get involved with the show Grave Concerns? What were some highlights?

Grave Concerns was an idea I had for a while— finding the graves of famous people and building an oral historical narrative of the individual through people who knew them. A hearse seemed like a nice touch for the show, so my filmmaker buddy Greg Hemmings and I hit the road to Lowell, Massachusetts to find Jack Kerouac’s grave.

Our trip coincided with the repatriation of Kerouac’s scroll of On the Road to Lowell, so it was great opportunity to take in some of the ceremonies around that as well as meet a lot of people who knew Kerouac and visit some of his Lowell haunts. It was an honour to meet his best friend in Lowell, Billy Koumentzellis — who knows everyone it seems — and spend time listening to the other-worldly David Amram. We also did episodes on the NB boxer Yvon Durelle, and Gene MacLellan.

Who have you “boosted” or had a chance to work with along the way that we should know about?

I’ve been pretty lucky to have been in a position to help some people get on a stage. Probably the best know in the roots scene in Canada would be Matt Andersen – I was running the Roots Room stage at the ECMAs and a friend had asked if I could help get a young guy on stage. I had never heard such a large acoustic sound! Matt seems to have done OK!

Describe the Saltyjam – how you got involved, what you love about it, what challenges you.

I programmed the Saltyjam for the last 5 years, but after a couple of brain surgeries in the fall (all better now!) I’ve decided to pass that on and focus more on my own music. We’ve had some great music — Ruthie Foster, Justin Townes Earle, Colin James, Fred Eaglesmith — and a helluva lot of work.

What excites you about working with Folk Music Canada?

I’ve been on the board of Folk Music Canada for the last couple of years and I’ve been thrilled to work with such an eclectic and committed group of people. A lot has been done, and a lot needs to be done.

What will the CFMA awards being in Saint John mean for the city?

Having the CFMAs in Saint John has the potential to be a game-changer for the event. This city really comes out to support events (both the ECMAs and Canadian Country Music Awards were home-runs here).
We’ll have packed venues and a real buzz in the city when the event gets here next November.

Describe the new album, and Gretzky and Me, and the video.

I released my 8th album — Old New Borrowed Blue — at the end of November. It’s the first time I recorded in Saint John, and the first time I shared a producer role. I’m VERY happy with the songs and the sound of it.

I have my first video out on Youtube, for the tune “Gretzky and Me”.

We filmed it in a limestone quarry beside my house where we’ve been playing a lot of hockey with the kids this winter. It’s viral by Saint John standards: 700 hits! Should be fun playing a gig Friday night with Dave Carroll — we both have viral videos, right?

What’s next for Brent Mason?

Lots of gigs coming down the line: festivals, a trip to Oklahoma, a tour in China and a tour out West in the fall — and lots of work locally getting ready for the CFMAs!

Ashley Condon performs Saturday night at the launch of Home Folk Stages, a concert series presented by the CFMA Saint John committee to gather support for the awards.

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6 comments

  1. avatar
    Mark Benvenete 10 February, 2012 at 21:19

    Very well crafted, very enjoyable, it keeps rolling along nice and even.
    I love the wagon. In the early 80`s I worked with the Canadian band Crowbar. My personal car was known as “the hurse”, a jet black 70`s ranchero with stream line fiberglass top, black bubble windows. The band equipment vehicle was an old ambulence. Thanks…
    Kind regards
    Mark

  2. avatar
    Beverly Kreller 10 February, 2012 at 23:26

    Way to go Brent and ST. John CFMA committee! Ashley is the perfect choice to launch the series. She put on a fabulous show here in Toronto at Hugh’s Room during CFMAs!

  3. avatar
    Scott Cook 12 February, 2012 at 01:06

    I’ve only played in Saint John once, in front of a place called Backstreet Records on my very first cross-Canada tour in 2005. While I was busking, a postman-by-day, folksinger-by-night came by with some words of encouragement and a welcome to Saint John. If my memory serves me right, that postman was Brent Mason. So thanks for the kind words, Brent, hope to see you again somewhere along the way!

  4. avatar
    Rob Currie 12 February, 2012 at 15:38

    Brent is one of those people who makes things happen, not just within his own very interesting career, but for other folks he meets along the way. I am grateful for kindness he showed me several years back at a musical event up in Labrador. He’s a gentleman and a folksinger — and there’s no higher praise, in my book.

  5. avatar
    Emery Hyslop 16 April, 2012 at 16:54

    Congratulations Brent. I knew those monotonous days of grind at Ward Chipman Library would pay dividends. You’re carved out an excellent career in a very difficult business.

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